Pregnant Medicaid patients with melanoma are likely to wait over six weeks after their diagnosis until they’re able to get surgery. That’s according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), which found that patients with private insurance are able to schedule melanoma removal appointments much faster than patients covered by the government-funded health insurance plan.
This study comes on the heels of the recent article published by Women’s Health, which determined the drastic disparities of dermatologist appointment wait times in rural and urban areas. Similarly, in an effort to understand the excessively long wait times for Medicare patients, the UNC researchers evaluated over 7,600 North Carolina residents with recently diagnosed melanoma between 2004 and 2011. They found that pregnant women covered by Medicaid were 36 percent more likely to wait over six weeks for their melanoma to be removed than patients covered by a private insurance.
Other studies have documented the unjust melanoma removal wait times for Medicaid patients. A 2015 JAMA Dermatology study found that 20 percent of Medicare patients with melanoma had to wait 45 days until they could get their melanoma removed.
According to a Fox News report, the reason why Medicaid patients have to suffer long wait times is because there are not enough physicians accepting Medicaid insurance. Only 32 percent of dermatologists are taking on new Medicaid patients. This might be because private insurers reimburse physicians at much higher rates than Medicaid, and those payments are faster to process.
Nearly a third of women diagnosed with melanoma are in their 20s or 30s — typical childbearing years, and pregnancy can be considered a trigger for melanoma. “This is nature’s way of preventing the body from rejecting something ‘foreign’ and protecting the fetus—but we rely on that immune system to protect the body from things like cancer and melanoma,” said Sapna Patel, MD, a melanoma oncologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. “In some cases, melanomas can emerge due to what we call ‘immune escape,’ meaning they sneak through the gates while the immune system is compromised.”